this is a special edition of "nightline." >> tonight, americans are coming here for more than just the beautiful beaches. up to a million children a year, sold into sexual slavery in places like this seaside latin america paradise. tonight, the unusual group of americans on a dangerous rescue mission. they include a former cia agent. >> smell plenty of beer on me. >> a door to door salesman. even a hollywood actress made famous on "the walking dead." to bring down the alleged sex traffickers in this massive undercover operation, they need to catch them red handed first. >> what called the cops, man? >> and the stakes in this sting couldn't be higher for both the girls and their rescuers.
this is a special edition of "nightline." sex tourism takedown. >> good evening and welcome to this special edition of "nightline." tonight, we're going to take you inside a dangerous mission to rescue young girls caught up in the sex trade. this massive undercover sting is not being carried out by cops,
but instead by a group of americans that includes a former cia agent, a hollywood star and a door to door salesman. they believe their modern day abolitionists, and tonight, you're going to see their commitment tested in the crucible of a violent latin american city. and abc's david wright was there for all of it. ♪ >> reporter: these americans look like tourists heading out for a vacation romp. the clear blue water and those white sand beaches only part of the allure. the beauty of the surroundings here in cartagena colombia attracts many tourists. the beauty of the girls attracts many of men willing to pay. >> especially those games. if you're messing with the girls -- they'll keep you up. i had this chick with me for two days. >> reporter: these guys are supposedly here for a surprise bachelor party. tim ballard, the best man. in charge of the money. marcus is a local tout who has
been backing that he can arrange anything. >> what do we got? >> we got some new chickens? >> yeah, what it is, i got six chickens. >> reporter: obviously they're not talking poultry. they're after girls for the big party and the younger, the better. but they have to speak in code because what they're looking to do, hire underage prostitutes, is illegal here. marcus tells them to be careful. >> it's illegal. you can go to prison for that [ bleep ]. >> reporter: that's not to say he's unwilling to provide, if the price is right. >> okay, of the girls that we already have that are sure, how many of them are actually minors? >> we have -- >> seriously minors, i've got -- >> yeah. >> nine. >> what ages? >> i've got between 15 -- i got -- i got one 13, between 13 and 16 years old, i got. i've got one that's 13 right
now. >> this is a colombian operation, i want to make that very clear. >> reporter: in truth, tim ballard doesn't want to buy these girls for sex. he wants to rescue them. what's your cover story? >> we're down here doing a big party, a bachelor's party from the united states. rich guys. my best friend, i'm the best man in the wedding. and my buddy's coming down and we're going to surprise him with what we know he loves, and that's child sex. >> reporter: ballard is a former cia agent and former investigator for homeland security, specializing in human trafficking cases. i imagine your work to be the liam neeson character in "taken." >> yeah. i spent 12 years as a special agent for the united states government doing this. the problem is, the vast majority of the kids, we couldn't save. they weren't u.s. cases, they weren't involved with the united states. >> reporter: so, you formed your own organization? >> i created operation
underground railroad. >> reporter: he believes he's rescuing children from slavery. >> i'm a big lincoln fan. >> we have it all planned out. >> reporter: operation underground railroad spent months organizing a massive sting operation in cooperation with colombian authorities who are so overwhelmed with cases, they are happy to have help. the americans are a believable group, because most of the pedophiles are sex tourists, according to this undercover investigator. he says that many are people with families and good jobs who come here for something exotic. it's 24 hours before the party. the team knows that tomorrow, anything can happen. >> blow here, okay? and then you're pivoting. >> reporter: so, they are going over basic hand to hand combat moves. >> boom, boom, boom. we're not down here on vacation. we're down here to save children, okay? this can be a dangerous situation. >> i can pick you up and throw
your on your held. >> reporter: s.e.a.l. team six this is not. a group of new recruits are here for the sting operation. all of them volunteers. some of them asked us not to show their faces. but many, just regular civilians. krista and drew are cross fit instructors from utah. back home, tim works at at their gym. christian is a fitness instructor and a door to door salesman. >> we have the cross fit trainers, we have the commercial real estate dude. the actor. >> reporter: that actress is lawyer rh laurie holden. have you ever done something like this before? >> i spent time in cambodia helping to get girls out of the brothels. i was trained by a navy s.e.a.l. when i did "the walking dead." i can protect myself. >> reporter: that's right. "the walking dead." which is easier. this or killing zombies?
>> we'll see. we'll see tomorrow. >> reporter: the group has led sting operations before in other countries. >> we've been in the united states, we've been in haiti, nick raragua nicaragua, guatemala, ecuador. >> reporter: what about this group? are they legit? >> they're legit and very professional group. >> reporter: the attache for homeland security investigations tells us this operation is not officially sanctioned by the u.s. government. but the u.s. is aware of it. i can imagine a lot of the viewers saying, geez, what a noble thing. still being kind of skeptical. because something that doesn't sit right, like, it feels like this should be the work of governments. >> it absolutely should be. if the governments were doing it, we wouldn't be trying this. no one's doing anything. and no one will do anything. we got them. >> reporter: that's why they travel the world, gathering
evidence to hand over to local authorities. a group of film makers have been following them, documenting their missions on hidden cameras for a new film, "the aboliti abolitioni abolitionists." center stage for the cartagena raid is this multimillion dollar mansion the group rented, nestled in the historic town center. filmmaker chad thomas and his team wire the place for sound and video in order for the colombian officials to prosecute the traffickers, they have to catch them red handed on tape. how much money are we talking about? >> $200, $300 for the evening for a child. >> reporter: for weeks now, tim and his team have been putting the word out to gather girls for the party. thursday morning, the day of the party, at the mansion, they are getting everything set. almost showtime, huh? >> yeah. >> reporter: nervous? >> a little bit, you know, but that's good. >> i think it's going to be weird when we actually see the girls. it's going to set in, like, this
is who has been sex trafficked. >> reporter: krista makes a sign to hang outside with balloons, like it's a teenager's birthday party. that's so that the traffickers won't seem out of place bringing so many young girls into the house. some of the men splash beer on their faces and clothes. >> i want them to smell plenty of beer on men. >> reporter: actress laurie's assignment is to keep the girls occupied in the pool area while tim catches the traffickers on tape. a task that could take an hour. >> try to keep the party going in a light, festive spirit, which will, guys, be the biggest acting challenge of all time. our hearts are going to break the second they walk in. >> reporter: here, our fame could blow the group's cover. she's going to wear a brown wig, hoping to go incognito. >> it will work. >> reporter: i wouldn't recognize you. >> good. hopefully they won't, either.
>> reporter: several different potential traffickers will bringing girls to the party and their arrivals have to be perfectly coordinated. on the team, there are undercover operatives on the cti, colombia's version of the fbi. tensions running high. but there's a problem. one of the alleged traffickers is stuck in traffic. >> five minutes behind schedule. some of the girls are stuck in traffic, so, things are getting a little bit tense here. it all has to go off like clockwork or it may not happen. >> five minutes! >> reporter: they have to get the potential traffickers here and the girls in a safe place and every second counts. my antidepressant worked hard to help with my depression. but sometimes, i still struggled to get going, even get through the day. so i was honest with my doctor. i told him i'd been feeling stuck for a long time. he said that for some people, an antidepressant alone only helps so much and suggested we add abilify (aripiprazole). he said that by taking both, some people had symptom improvement as early as 1 to 2 weeks.
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welcome back. operation underground railroad has been on this case for months now and tonight, with the sting about to happen, the danger is real and the stakes are high. a group of americans hoping to catch pimps trafficking underage girls. will it work? once again tonight, here's abc's david wright. >> hola! >> reporter: in colombia, the bachelor party is on. a parade of pretty young girls ready to work. 30 girls in all. many of them are very young. the alleged traffickers, true to their word. >> you're the king, man. >> reporter: but this isn't your typical bachelor party. upstairs, colombian authorities are quietly waiting for just the right moment to drop the hammer. tim ballard plays the part of the rowdy best man. buying girls for sex.
but really, he's in on the sting. he's the leader of a team of americans who have been setting this up. they go by the name operation underground railroad. and they work with local authorities to catch sex traffickers. pimps who sell underage girls for sex. worldwide, over 1 million children are trafficked each year. many of them sold into sexual slavery. may i ask, your name is andrea? that's what we're call you. >> reporter: andrea disguised her face for this interview. her parents have no idea she's a prostitute. she's 17. and she's been working for six years. so, you startled at age 11. this is very young. do the men pay more for young girls? especially under 14. how much more? almost twice the price. andrea says she wishes she didn't do this. why do you have to do this now?
>> reporter: at the operation underground railroad party -- >> you brought like 100 girls. >> i'm missing three, they're right. >> he got 100 girls. 100. >> reporter: some of the girls are just 14 years old. >> you can tell they're a minor though, right? >> of course, of course, absolutely. they're giving eyes out, right? you know, like, trying to flirt with guys. >> yeah, so sad. >> reporter: marcus talks up one girl in particular. >> she's nice. >> how old? >> 14. >> she's here? >> yeah, she's beautiful. >> reporter: legally, it's not enough just to have brought them. in order to prosecute, there has to be no doubt why. a clear quid pro quo. >> she's 14? >> yes. >> okay, so -- here's the thing. does she do everything? >> i'll talk to her.
>> i told her anything crazy that he wants, if she wants more money, she better ask. >> not going to be any problems? >> reporter: and money has to change hands. in colombia, it's legal to have consensual sex with a 14-year-old. but paying for sex with a minor is a crime. >> money time. this is the good part. >> these are the two. >> okay, let me see. >> reporter: cold, hard cash. right there on the table. this is the crucial moment investigators need to seal the deal. >> the 14-year-old -- >> do they know what's going on? >> no, the parents don't know [ bleep ]. >> reporter: the man on the left there is an undercover investigator for the cti, colombia's equivalent of the fbi. he gives the code word, agreed in advance. calling for wine to celebrate. the bust is on. >> whoa. >> what the heck?
>> reporter: federal police to arrest the five alleged traffickers. social workers to attend to the girls. tim is still playing his part. >> who called the cops, man? >> reporter: demanding to see his lawyer as if he's being arrested, too. for us, a chance to talk to marcus before he's carted away. is it worth it? >> worth what, sir? >> reporter: to bring underage girls -- >> there's no underage girls here. >> reporter: you told him there's a girl that's 14 years old. >> i lied to them about that. >> reporter: he tells me that owl all of the girls are of legal age. he insists it's all just a misunderstanding. so, were you lying then or now? >> i was lying because i wanted him to be happy with the girls that i found, okay, but no, i did not -- there's not a single girl here that's underage, i promise you that. >> reporter: marcus tells me he has a daughter back in the statements who is 15.
how could you do this if you have a daughter that's 15 years old? i don't get it. >> i'm not looking for young girls. >> reporter: do you think this is just a total mistake? >> yes. it's a total mistake. you know why, sir? >> reporter: why? >> i did not look for young girls. >> reporter: you brought some. >> those are the girls that look young, sir. please, check their i.d.s. i promise -- >> jimmy: i think they' >> reporter: i think they will check more than their i.d.s. >> i hope they do. >> reporter: out by the pum, the social workers are one by one checking i.d.s. >> no idea. it's okay. >> reporter: many of the girls are afraid they're being arrested. this is their livelihoods. for some of them, their main concern is not to be rescued, but to get paid for a night's work.
>> when they first showed up, some of them looked really terrified. i talked to a few of them and asked them how old they were and some were 12, some were 13, most were 14. one of the girls came and embraced me and started to cry and then i started to cry. it's a very -- >> reporter: your heart goes out to them, huh? for these girls, it's a long road ahead. over the next few days, social services did interviews with the gi girls, their families and the traffickers. in all, 17 of the girls were under 18. their i.d.s, fake or nonexistence. >> what makes me sad is that, yes, we got four traffickers and i hope they fry, but what makes
me sad is that i think so many of these little girls, they don't know any different. >> reporter: end up back out on the street. >> yeah. >> reporter: you think they did some good tonight? >> i know they did. but so much more needs to be done. >> reporter: any underage girl will be taken to a certified foster care program, dedicated to making sure they get the care they need. how do you feel at the end of all this? i mean, you must be elated, but on the other hand -- >> it's bittersweet. i want to celebrate, but i don't, because it's -- it's so horrific. so horrific. i see my own children in this. >> reporter: but anyone of age is free to go. in so many cases, even the youngest girls return to what they know best. the streets. sure enough, later that night, we saw some of the same girls from the party, the ones who could prove they were over 18, back out on the streets, making
up for lost time. tonight's raid, just an inconvenient ordeal. i'm david wright for "nightline" in cartagena, colombia. >> sad on so many levels. our thanks tonight to the team in cartagena for that report. and this update. operation underground railroad just finished their latest sting this past weekend, freeing, they say, more than 55 underage victims from sexual slavery. rheal we'll be right back. >> this special edition of "nightline" is brought to you by bp. but the energy bp produces up here creates something else as well: jobs all over america. engineering and innovation jobs. advanced safety systems & technology. shipping and manufacturing. across the united states, bp supports more than a quarter million jobs. when we set up operation in one part of the country, people in other parts go to work. that's not a coincidence. it's one more part of our commitment to america.
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